By Joshua D. Glawson | United States
On Wednesday, October 17th, 2018, in Irvine, California, Dr. Steven Pinker gave a presentation along with a Q&A for his latest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
Here is a very similar presentation to that of which I saw, for your viewing pleasure:
Dr. Steven Pinker presenting at the Cato Institute.
Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He has also taught at both Stanford and MIT. He earned a bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology at McGill University and his doctorate at Harvard in 1979. Pinker also earned a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, and a one-year stint as an assistant professor at Harvard. “He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s ‘World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals’ and Time’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World Today.’ Lastly, Steven Pinker is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications.”
I was excited to see Steven Pinker speak after reading an intriguing interview that Nick Gillespie conducted in the June 2018 issue of Reason Magazine. As Dr. Pinker was walking up to the event hall, I was able to get an autograph in that issue. He seemed delighted to know it was a Reason Magazine he was signing.
Image of autographed Reason Magazine
Dr. Pinker on Reason TV.
The Presentation of Steven Pinker
As Pinker’s presentation began, he broke the ice by first showing images of extremism such as both neo-Nazis and AntiFa, along with a couple more humorous images of President Trump. The crowd laughed at the images, and I believe all sides of the political spectrum received his humor well.
Although there is no explicit evidence of Pinker’s political ideology that I could find, he has however been noted as saying that he is “more libertarian than authoritarian,” in a New York Times interview. Perhaps, his success are in part due to not directly affiliating with a political ideology. Instead, he pursues reason with a free market of ideas in light of the Enlightenment period.
As his PowerPoint continued after his initial introduction, he provided the major points he would eventually cover, which were straight from his book, i.e. reason, science, humanism, and progress.
With reason, he pointed out that knowledge has enhanced human flourishing. Because of our ability to reason, we are in a much better world today than ever before.
Major World Improvements
Dr. Pinker provided graphs and charts that many different organizations have since used as evidence. The cited information suggested a strong, direct correlation between improvement in knowledge and quality of life. Pinker did not specify capitalism. However, his wording does advocate for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas. This is especially so when he mentions how people around the world have escaped extreme poverty in East Asia and other areas. He referred to the world’s growing escape of abject poverty as “The Great Escape,” while noting that “this is the greatest accomplishment in human history, and sadly nobody knows about it.”
Dr. Pinker also touched on humanism, with philosophical and anthropological wording and studies similar to that of Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over the acceptance of dogma or superstition. Pinker also noted that “identity politics is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values.”
Image of books for sale at the Dr. Steven Pinker presentation.
Reason, Humanism, and Happiness
His presentation progressed, providing some evidence that indicated with the increase of reason, science, and humanism, happiness also increased. However, this chart and part of the presentation lost some of the scholarly crowd. Of course, it is possibly dubious to assert a subjective claim, such as happiness, and objectively declare an increase. I do believe that people are happier today, but that is only a belief: testing that and providing a solid answer would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, with the increase of medicine, technology, life expectancy, food, clean water, less disease, less physical labor, better living conditions, lessening of dictatorships, and more, one can see how Pinker’s argument has good standing.
As Dr. Pinker’s presentation closed, he stressed that progress is not magic and there is no utopia. Much like that of the philosopher and former fellow Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Nozick, Pinker was quick to point out that there is no perfect place in the world and it is not possible.
As more popular scholars begin speaking up in defense of these core values, I can only hope that liberty will also return to the center of these tenets. If so, society and the world may progress more than ever before.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson interviews Dr. Steven Pinker.
Get awesome merch. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!